Friday, October 31, 2008

So Many Festivals It's Almost Scary

Read of the week: Michael Guillén's piece inspired by the latest issue of the Film International journal, guest-edited by Dina Iordanova. I can't wait to get my hands on this issue myself. Michael cherry-picks quotes from its articles that help crystalize questions modern-day film festivals must tackle in the face of audiences who are finding other ways to see the stock-and-trade of certain kinds of fests; he believes "new strategies must be devised if these festivals are to survive." I half-wish Michael hadn't quoted me -- a big surprise midway into the article -- because it would have kept this paragraph from seeming a bit like an appeal to join a mutual admiration society.

But I'm ultimately glad he pointed to my piece on October's film festival glut here on Frisco Bay, for one because it provides an opportunity to point out that most of November is looking hardly less glutted with appealing festgoing options. DocFest and the SFJFF continue into the month, and I've also already mentioned that third i and the San Francisco Film Society are both bringing festivals the weekend of November 13-16. In addition, the SFFS's Animation Festival leads right into their New Italian Cinema presentation November 16-23, ending with the festival-lauded Gomorrah. After a chance to catch a Thanksgiving breath, it's followed by Quebec Film Week (titles as yet unannounced) December 10-14. 2008 has been the first year that I've sampled the SFFS's fall offerings, at the successfully-inaugurated French Cinema Now where a rare opportunity to see two early films by Arnaud Desplechin has sparked a re-evaluation of the filmmaker on my part. More on that on another day...

Two more November festivals begin on the same date: the Latino Film Festival and the American Indian Film Festival both start on the 7th day of the month. The AIFF has at least one program I really don't want to miss: Kent MacKenzie's the Exiles, a highly-praised 1962 film set in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles, that played for a week at the Castro Theatre this summer while I was out of town. The LFF brings the reputedly Guy Maddin-esque La Antena from Argentina and is tributing Gregory Nava's extremely significant El Norte (hopefully in a new 35mm print). More suggestions of titles from either of these festivals would be welcome.

Frank Lee is bringing back his Chinese American Film Festival to the Four Star on November 14-20 with titles including Johnny To's Sparrow, and an additional November 8th Marina Theatre screening of Ganglamedo, a Tibet-themed musical which also plays on the last day of the festival at the main venue.

Looking further into the festival crystal ball, the Berlin and Beyond film festival will run January 15-21, 2009 at the Castro and include an in-person tribute to Wim Wenders along with a presentation of his newest film Palermo Shooting. And it's already time to anticipate Noir City 7 (January 23-February 1st), a "newspaper noir"-themed special edition promising some of the most cynical print-stained newshounds ever to have collected a kill fee. Like Chuck Tatum from Ace in the Hole, or JJ Hunsecker from the Sweet Smell of Success. Lesser-known films from Fritz Lang and Anthony Mann (two apiece) and a repeat Noir City presentation of the 1946 B-picture Night Editor (did Joe Eszterhas see this before he wrote Basic Instinct?) are additional cursory highlights, but this is one festival in which its worth looking beyond the filmmaker pedigrees, so easy is it for all but the most committed noir-heads to feel like they've unearthed a forgotten gem (Night Editor was one such gem from Noir City 4, and I'm glad it's being brought back, this time on the Castro screen.)

In the meantime, other notable screenings and events not connected with film festivals keep popping up on the calendar. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has announced some more screenings through mid-December, including brand-new 35mm prints of five Alain Robbe-Grillet films (Last Year in Marienbad, which he wrote, and four he also directed) December 4-18. The new Pacific Film Archive calendar starts this weekend with the first films in a tremendous Japanese cinema series, beginning with post-war films from Kon Ichikawa, who died earlier this year, and Akira Kurosawa. Then it continues with screenings of career highlights from most of the major figures of the Japanese New Wave (Shindo, Oshima, Suzuki, Imamura) and beyond. I hope to say more on the November-December PFA calendar soon.

But I'll just wrap up this post with a shout-out to the Balboa Theatre, which is bringing some special-events to the Richmond District just in time for me- I've moved back to this corner of Frisco myself. This Sunday there will be two appearances by animation wizard Richard Williams. He's best known for his Oscar-winning work as animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but has an extensive filmography in both theatrical and television, feature-length and short-form animation. He also created title designs for films such as Murder on the Orient Express, Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, and the 1967 Casino Royale -- and when Friz Freleng's outfit passed the torch after putting together the beloved title sequences for the first three Peter Sellers Pink Panther features, it was Williams who picked it up. Williams will be on hand for a noon show and another at 7PM, though the latter is already listed as sold out. Future special events at the Balboa also include an opportunity to watch Tuesday's election results on the big screen with an enthusiastic crowd (free admission to this one), and on December 10th, the horror host documentary Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong will have its Frisco premiere (it's shown in Oakland, Sacramento and elsewhere but not in this county yet) with a set of as-yet-unannounced guests in attendance.

Speaking of witch, Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Silent Movies In Big (and not-quite-so big) Spaces

The Paramount Theatre in Oakland, by far the grandest movie palace in which I've ever seen a film projected (sorry, Ziegfeld), hasn't shown a film since January 2007, when they played Double Indemnity to an appreciative audience including yours truly. But they're having a go of it again. A brief series of Friday night films began last night with a screening of the dearly departed Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. I learned about it mere hours before, which was not enough time to change my evening plans or to blog about it before hand. So I'm telling you now. The art deco temple to luxury and entertainment, has booked Lon Chaney in the Phantom of the Opera with live Wurlitzer organ accompaniment by Jim Riggs on October 31st, Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest November 7th, and Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain November 21st. With a promise of more to come (though I've learned not to place too much stock in these kinds of promises...I'll keep you posted). The tradition of the old-time movie night, complete with newsreel, cartoon, and "Dec-o-win" prize giveaway, will remain intact. And the price has been lowered back down to $5, perfect for folks with concern that the nation's economy may be coming closer to resembling that of 1931 (the year the Paramount was built) than is comfortable. What great news about a film venue I'd pretty much written off last year after reading this piece.

The Paramount is not the only Frisco Bay venue screening Phantom of the Opera on Halloween. Dennis James will take the controls of the 9,000-pipe Ruffatti organ to accompany the Rupert Julian-directed film at Davies Symphony Hall that evening. The tickets are more expensive but the unique nature of the event (the first organ-accompanied silent I've seen booked at Davies since I've been paying attention) may be worth it. Hopefully both venues will be showing the film on 35mm prints, unlike Grace Cathedral which projected from a DVD on a disappointingly modest screen when this horror warhorse was shown last New Year's Eve.

There are more silent films with live musical accompaniment to anticipate over the coming months. The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum has its own Halloween screening next Saturday, October 25th: F.W. Murnau's loose Dracula adaptation Nosferatu with an original score by Molly Axtman, performing with her Invisible Ensemble. The museum's Edison Theatre is nowhere near the size of the Paramount or Davies, and when they program a film as well-known as Nosferatu there it tends to sell out- let that be a warning. There are lesser-known, piano-accompanied silents every Saturday night in Niles (reachable by a short bus ride from the Union City BART stop) planned through the end of 2008, with a few extra days thrown in for good measure. Tonight is the monthly Comedy Shorts Night, with more shorts programmed November 15 and December 13. November 1st brings the Goose Woman, directed by Clarence Brown. November 8th and 9th is a weekend-long celebration of the 90th birthday of Diana Serra Cary, a.k.a. child star Baby Peggy. Carey will be in attendance. Douglas Fairbanks, who would be 125 if he were still alive, also gets a two-day celebration in Niles December 6th and 7th, including screenings of When the Clouds Roll By and National Film Registry selection Wild and Wooly. Other features set to grace the Edison Theatre include the Lost Express November 22, Young Romance (a 1915 Lasky film written by William C. de Mille) November 29, the fun-for-all-ages 1924 Peter Pan December 20 and 21, and John Ford's 3 Bad Men, a reportedly major influence on Akira Kurosawa, on December 27.

Pianist Judith Rosenberg will accompany three Soviet silent films at the Pacific Film Archive this Sunday and on the next two Wednesdays as part of the wonderful Envisioning Russia series running there. The November-December calendar at the PFA has not been announced in full yet, but I do know this: three Saturday afternoons in November will bring Buster Keaton films as part of the theatre's Movie Matinees For All Ages program. It's Go West on November 8, Sherlock, Jr., the Scarecrow and Cops November 15, and Our Hospitality and the Haunted House November 29.

The next Castro Theatre calendar can be downloaded as a pdf, and though it's dominated by a month-long booking of Milk, a highlight looks to be a November 17 screening of one of the greatest silent films of all time, Carl Dreyer's the Passion of Joan of Arc, accompanied by the UC Alumni Chorus performing Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light oratorio. There will be a repeat performance November 23 at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall, and both programs are co-sponsored by the PFA, which makes me feel confident that it will be screened in 35mm and not video. Sadly the same will not be true for the screening of Indian silent film a Throw of Dice, showing from HD with no live musical accompaniment November 15 as part of the Third i South Asian Film Festival. If you're wondering why the San Francisco Silent Film Festival's annual winter event doesn't occupy a Castro date on the coming calendar, rest assured it will happen on February 14th, 2009. Last I heard, the program line-up had not been firmed up yet but it promises to be a lovely time.

Finally, for those of you in the South Bay who feel like you may be missing out, Stanford Lively Arts is bringing the Santa Rosa Symphony to Palo Alto December 6th to perform Martin Matalon's score to Fritz Lang's enduring science fiction spectacle Metropolis. I doubt the version being shown will include the film's recently rediscovered footage- it's too soon to expect it to appear in circulating prints, I suspect. But this description of Matalon's score: "conventional instruments combine with computerized sound modeling and electronics in a vivid, jazz-infused soundtrack" has me very curious nonetheless.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Adam Hartzell: Melody Gilbert at DocFest

More festivals keep coming to Frisco Bay. Latest to be announced is 3rd i's San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival, expanded to four days (November 13-16) with Indian Subcontinental-related films of just about every imaginable type: including silent classic (1929's a Throw of Dice), Bollywood crowd-pleaser (Om Shanti Om), Shakespeare adaptation (Maqbool), sleeper Oscar contender (Slumdog Millionaire), and Pakistani zombie movie (Hell's Ground). The only thing that seems to be missing is, oh, maybe an animated feature based on the Ramayana- and another festival the same weekend's got that. The San Francisco Film Society's third annual Animation Festival opens November 13th with Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues, which has previously played locally only in an unfinished version. The weekend at the Embarcadero includes dozens of animated shorts and features from around the world.

Well, with that jam-packed paragraph out of the way, what I'm really here to do is introduce a piece by my good friend Adam Hartzell on the films of Melody Gilbert, whose documentaries are being featured at IndieFest's annual documentary showcase, opening tonight at the Roxie cinema. Her films will be shown there October 24-26, and will be accompanied by an in-person chat on the afternoon of October 25th. Here's Adam:

The San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, which begins this weekend, is featuring the director of two films that had a tremendous effect on me when I saw them at previous SF DocFests. The director is Melody Gilbert and the two films are Whole and A Life Without Pain, part of a retrospective of Gilbert’s work at this year’s festival. Whole is a film about a tiny demographic – people who strongly desire the loss of a limb, a condition I was first introduced to through a captivating essay in The Atlantic Monthly. Gilbert documents the dreams and fears and humanity of people, disparagingly called 'amputee wannabes', who struggle with an obsession truly bizarre to the majority of us. Their obsession to have a leg or arm removed is so intense, some go to such extreme efforts as placing their leg in dry ice or laying a leg along railroad tracks in order to bring their desires to fruition. The title's obvious irony is that these individuals will not feel 'whole' until part of their body has been removed. The topic is striking on its own, but considering the idiosyncratic and disconcerting desires of her subjects, the fact that Gilbert is able to craft empathic connections between the audience and her subjects more than justifies Gilbert receiving the SF DocFest’s inaugural Someone To Watch award. Rather than take the easy comedic route with this topic that a lesser documentary would, Gilbert challenges our weathered cynicism, provincial worldviews, and hardened morals to connect with populations difficult to engage, while reserving judgment as the responsibility of the viewer and those viewed.

Gilbert’s A Life Without Pain takes us into another irony, the agony of being someone who cannot experience physical pain, and how the trials of such lives touch those who love them. Gilbert follows three children with congenital anesthesia, a condition where the body does not feel physical pain, and explores how these children and their families cope with such a unique condition. Gilbert quickly introduces us to the severe adjustments these kids and families need to make. One child must wear goggles to avoid further damaging her retinas from having no pain cues to stop her from scratching. A Norwegian girl’s adventurous nature requires bi-weekly check-ups with the doctor since her body won’t announce a broken bone through pain. And a German girl shares how school bullies have literally taken her on as a personal punching bag. Even if she feels no physical pain, emotional pain persists. Much could be metaphor-ed about the painful pain-free existence of these children, but Gilbert always keeps us grounded in the actual real lives of the children, refusing to let the metaphors replace the human beings. (The Elephant Man could have just as likely screamed "I am not a metaphor!") And since these are documentaries made with television in mind, Gilbert also refuses the pity or 'supercrip' narratives that the TV medium too often demands, by instead having the children and families in A Life Without Pain well anchored in their agency. (I don’t know if Gilbert is influenced by Martin F. Norden’s excellent critique of disabled characters in film, The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies, but you can tell that I sure am.)

Based on my positive receptions of Whole and A Life Without Pain, the film I am most anxious to see at this year’s SF DocFest is Gilbert’s Urban Explorers: Into the Darkness. Similar to my motivation to check out Whole, I am excited to see Urban Explorers after reading about 'Urban Archaeology' in an issue of my favorite magazine, Spacing, a Canadian publication focusing on public space issues. I anticipate that we will witness city spelunkers diving into sewer tunnels or Urbana Joneses venturing into factory buildings vacated by dead-beat corporations to see what abandoned artifacts and forgotten histories might be found in such modern day pyramids. These urban archaeologists are part of a larger movement of collectives, e.g., Guerilla Gardeners, Critical Mass, and Parkour Traceurs, embracing public space while also challenging the boundaries of what is public or private as a form of resistance in a time when so much of our public space is being usurped by economically-restrictive private institutions. I am curious if Gilbert will explore these public space issues, bringing up how these urban excursions allow for a more intimate connection with our cities and by extension our fellow citizens. I don’t know if Gilbert will address those topics, but considering how much her previous documentaries have stayed with me when I first watched them at past SF DocFests, I’m sure I will have a repeat performance of experience at this year’s SF DocFest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Marin and Beyond

If you're not reading the GreenCine Daily website with the frequency prescribed by its title, you may not have noticed that the site published my interview with Lance Hammer, the director behind one of 2008's most assured and affecting debuts, Ballast. It was published a little more than a week ago, and already the pointer post has dropped off the main page (a tribute to the Daily editor David Hudson's unflagging prolificacy). I would have mentioned it here at Hell on Frisco Bay earlier, but I wanted to be able to name the Frisco Bay venues where the film will be showing starting the Friday. I've now learned that Ballast will open here in Frisco proper at the Sundance Kabuki, where a filmmaker q-and-a is expected to take place opening weekend. In the East Bay, the venue is Berkeley's Elmwood, and in the North Bay, it's the Rafael Film Center. Hammer is self-distributing his film, so a ticket purchase to Ballast at any of these venues might be seen as a vote for greater filmmaker (as opposed to distribution company) autonomy when it comes to controlling the release of their films.

Speaking of the Rafael Film Center, it recently released its calendar of film programs for the next few months. Just coming off its stint as a venue for the 31st Mill Valley Film Festival, the restored San Rafael theatre is the North Bay location to see a lot of the season's most exciting commercially-released films, new and old. There are a number of exclusive screenings that should tempt potential bridge-crossers to come to Marin county for a night at the movies as well.

First, let me talk about the latter category. If you missed last Friday's in-person tribute to Harriet Andersson hosted at the Rafael by the MVFF, you might want to note that she's still in town, and will be on hand for a screening of Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel tonight. The screening is part of an eclectic set of Bergman's theatrical and television works, some of which are making their Frisco Bay premieres at the Rafael this week. There are a few selections repeated from recent Bergman retros around Frisco Bay, such as Cries and Whispers, perhaps Andersson's most powerful performance, which plays October 16-17. But there are also genuine rarities such as the Blessed Ones and the Best Intentions. The full five-and-a-half hour television version of Bergman's crowning achievement Fanny and Alexander will make its West Coast theatrical premiere in a HD presentation on October 19-23.

From October 29-November 2 the Rafael will host a series entitled Irving Thalberg's MGM, showing three films the mogul made at the most "star-studded" studio in the early 1930s. On the 29th, Red Dust pairs Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in the steaming jungles of colonial-era Vietnam. On the 30th it's Ernst Lubitsch's slice of perfection the Merry Widow. And Private Lives, a vehicle for Thalberg's wife Norma Shearer that I have not seen, rounds out the trio on November 2. Another short series is a four-film, seven-day (Dec. 5-11) stint of Janus Films' touring Essential Art House collection of landmark foreign classics that stopped by the Castro last year and the Pacific Film Archive the year before. (Which reminds me to mention that, according to the Janus website, the PFA has booked Masaki Kobayashi's trilogy, the Human Condition for February 15th.)

The Rafael will have three November one-off events with guest speakers: a November 15 screening of Wall-E accompanied by a presentation from sound designer Ben Burtt. Burtt, visual effects whiz Craig Barron and silent film historian John Bengstom will take a look at Charlie Chaplin's silent-sound hybrid Modern Times November 20th, and Christopher Plummer will be on hand for a showing of Man in the Chair November 29th. Perhaps even more eye-catching, at least to my baby blues, is the December 4th return of the now-traditional "the Films of..." series highlighting films made exactly 100 years ago, in this case the Films of 1908. It will include early efforts from Max Linder and D.W. Griffith, as well as J. Stuart Blackton's famous "trick" film the Thieving Hand, all accompanied by Michael Mortilla at the piano. Back then they were just films, but today motion pictures of the Thieving Hand's length are considered shorts, and the Rafael will also be presenting an exclusive selection of some of Sundance 2008's better efforts. I've seen three of them, which range from good (Dennis) to excellent (Yours Truly and my olympic summer, which both also show up on the new SF Cinematheque calendar on November 6th.)

There's three more Rafael bookings I'd like to highlight, but these are not Marin-exclusive screenings. Each is booked to play for at least a week at the Rafael, but also at other Frisco Bay theatres on the same dates. In reverse chronological order, I'll start with Lola Montès, opening November 19 at the Rafael, the Elmwood, and the glorious Castro Theatre. This is a picture that I've only seen on video, where one barely gets the sense of its grandeur and scope. I can't wait to see it on a screen big enough to do justice to director Max Ophuls' vision and to the larger-than-life life of its subject played by Martine Carol, Lola Montez (who counted Frisco Bay as one of her realms of conquest).

Momma's Man opens October 24 at the Rafael, the Camera 12 in San Jose, and the Clay. One of the very best new films I've seen all year, this is the third feature directed by Azazel Jacobs, son of avant-garde film legend Ken Jacobs. He cast his father and his real-life mother Flo Jacobs as the parents of the lead character Mikey, a new parent who cocoons in his childhood loft rather than face his responsibilities as husband and father. As strange and alienating as his behavior may seem, the relationship between Mikey and his parents feels so natural that I really felt I started to understand what might lead a grown man to act in such a way, and what might or might not be able to lead him back out of the vicious circle he's drawn around himself. At one point he asks, "is this an intervention?" as if he hopes the answer will be yes, but knowing deep down that his parents' personalities preclude them from giving him that kind of a wake-up call. For me, the final shot packed a powerful dose of emotion that was unexpected given the detached, almost casual style that the rest of the film uses to present, but not underline in a heavy-handed way, the heartache of the situation.

Finally, Ashes of Time Redux opens October 17 at the Rafael, the Camera 12, the Shattuck in Berkeley and the Lumiere. I've considered the original arthouse wuxia to be among director Wong Kar-Wai's most interesting films since watching a scratchy print at the 4-Star several years ago, but I've never gotten around to revisiting it. I had no idea that the screening would be the last chance I'd get to see the intact film. According to articles like this one, this Redux version is not a new "director's cut" like so many reissues these days, but rather an attempt to preserve film elements that were not only at risk but in fact already becoming unwatchable due to poor archival practices in the Hong Kong film industry. It's great to see Ashes of Time's images (shot by Christopher Doyle, of course) back up on cinema screens, in such vivid colors. But I must confess that some of the attempts to patch over preservation problems are very distracting, particularly the new musical score with its too-prominent cello parts. (Yo-Yo Ma is great, but is not the solution to every musical problem.) The cast is packed with the greats of what many consider to be the peak period of Hong Kong cinema, but there's something bittersweet about seeing them (especially the late Leslie Cheung) digitally-spruced-up for a release like this: one can't help but wonder how many other films from the years before the handover are left to decompose because nobody who cares enough has the clout to save them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

October Fests

This month is absolutely crammed with film festivals here on Frisco Bay. At least eleven, too many for one cinephile to attend. Or to write about with much care and detail. So I'm just going to make a list with pertinent facts and a few highlighted titles. To minimize hyperlink fatigue, I'm only directly linking venues not already found linked to on my sidebar.

2nd Dead Channels Film Festival of the Fantastic
When? Currently showing films through October 9th with a wrap-up party on the 10th.
Where? Mostly at the Roxie here in Frisco, but Thursday night there's a screening at Oakland's Parkway Theatre too.
Have I been before? I just got back from my first Dead Channels screening. A 35mm print of the 1972 Western Cutthroats Nine, shot in the Spanish Pyrenees by director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent, it features a gruesomely dwindling cast, highly entertaining dub jobs, and a poor grasp of metallurgy. In other words, a fun time for all. Like most films in the festival, this was a one-show-only screening.
I have seen and can recommend: None, other than the above-mentioned film that won't be screening again.
I'm curious to see: Well, there's unfortunately not much of the festival left to anticipate, but I'm certainly curious about Nicolas Roeg's new Fay Weldon adaptation Puffball which plays Thursday night in Oakland. Also tomorrow night but here in Frisco, Surveillance, Jennifer Lynch's long-awaited (or is that long-dreaded) follow-up to Boxing Helena, plays the Roxie.
More coverage by: Michael Guillén of the Evening Class, Dennis Harvey at sf360, Jason Watches Movies, and Carl Martin at the new(-ish) Film on Film Foundation blog.

31st Mill Valley Film Festival
When? Running right now, through October 12th.
Where? All venues in Marin County: the Rafael Film Center, the Sequoia and others.
Have I been before? I try to cross the bridge and at least a program or two every year. It's a homey, relaxed festival considering all the big names it annually attracts.
I have seen and can recommend: The Betrayal, a tour-de-force documentary about a Laotian immigrant family's Poetic, personal, and beautifully shot, it was co-directed by Ellen Kuras (cinematographer for Spike Lee, Michel Gondry and many others) and one of the film's subjects, Thavisouk Phrasavath. I wrote more on it here. Happy-Go-Lucky is probably director Mike Leigh's cheeriest film and a good companion (or antidote?) to his 1994 film Naked. I Just Wanted To Be Somebody is a Jay Rosenblatt short that plays in front of a new feature documentary (that I have not seen) on the making of and social impact of the musical Hair. The Rosenblatt video focuses on Anita Bryant, and seeing it now might be a good warm-up to the highly-anticipated upcoming release of Gus Van Sant's Milk.
I'm curious to see: Well, I've never seen Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly before, and seeing it screened with its star Harriet Andersson in attendance for a tribute has got to be considered one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I'm also excited about Kelly Reichardt's latest Wendy and Lucy but its final screening is at RUSH status- no more tickets to buy unless you want to wait in line. Luckily the film has been picked up for distribution, and probably will screen here early next year. The previously-mentioned Surveillance plays this festival as well.
More coverage by: Michael Hawley and Michael Guillén at the Evening Class, Keaton Kail from indieWIRE, Dennis Harvey in the SF Bay Guardian and at sf360, Tony An, and Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks.

French Cinema Now
When? Technically October 8-12, but there will also be San Francisco Film Society-presented screenings of 1960s French classics Belle Du Jour and the Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the same venue from October 13-16.
Where? The Clay Theatre in Frisco.
Have I been before? No, this is the first year I'm aware of the SFFS presenting a French series. Hopefully it will be a rousing success and lay the groundwork for future editions!
I have seen and can recommend: Only Belle Du Jour, which I can't recommend highly enough if you've never seen it.
I'm curious to see: Where to start? Pretty much the entire program looks appealing. I'm most drawn to the opportunity to catch up with hot auteur Arnaud Desplechin's lesser-known films Life of the Dead and My Sex Life...Or How I Got Into an Argument. His latest, a Christmas Tale opens the festival tonight well in advance of an upcoming commercial release, and he is expected to appear in person. Two screenings of the French New Wave omnibus Six in Paris look to be another highlight.
More coverage by: Max Goldberg at sf360, Jonathan Kiefer at KQED's Arts blog, and though I've linked it already it's worth a second look, Michael Hawley at the Evening Class.

7th Oakland International Film Festival
When? October 9-16
Where? The venerable Grand Lake Theatre.
Have I been before? No.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: It looks like a good, diverse line-up, and maybe this is finally when I'll get to Passion and the Power: the Technology of Orgasm.
More coverage by: Angela Woodall of the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times.

3rd CounterCorp Anti-Corporate Film Festival
When? October 15-17
Where? Brava Theatre in Frisco
Have I been before? No.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: The shorts program entitled The True Cost of Oil intrigues.
More coverage by: Not seeing much yet. Uh, wikipedia?

2008 Taiwan Film Festival
When? October 16-18
Where? At USF in Frisco and Cubberly Auditorium down in Palo Alto.
Have I been before? Yes, last year at the PFA was a fun time. Perhaps the best thing about this touring festival is the price: free!
I have seen and can recommend: None this year.
I'm curious to see: Secret, since I missed it at the SFIFF this year.
More coverage by:

4th Annual Classic Horror Film Festival: Shock It to Me!
When? October 17-18
Where? Castro Theatre
Have I been before? Embarrassingly, no. I've always found myself too busied by my own Halloween preparations to make it, but I hope to find a way to squeeze it in this time.
I have seen and can recommend: Of course, Night of the Living Dead. Also the great Hammer horror Curse of Frankenstein, which I've never seen before on the big screen.
I'm curious to see: Spider Baby with Sid Haig in attendance, and the Horror of Dracula- major gaps to be filled in my classic horror resume!
More coverage by: Nate Yapp at

11th United Nations Association Film Festival
When? October 19-26
Where? The Aquarius, the Eastside Theatre and Stanford University's Annenberg Auditorium down the peninsula, and the Roxie here in Frisco.
Have I been before? No, but with Roxie screenings co-presented with DocFest (see below) I hope to rectify that.
I have seen and can recommend: Les Blank's documentary All In This Tea is a terrific selection, as is the cine-centric short film Salim Baba. I wrote a bit on each here and here.
I'm curious to see: San Francisco: Still Wild at Heart appeals to my nature-loving, city-dwelling duality. Megalopolis sounds fascinating as well. Freeheld comes with an impressive award-winning pedigree (considering it beat the lovely Salim Baba to the Best Documentary Short Oscar.)
More coverage by: Agnes Varnum, who will be appearing on a panel at the festival. added 10/8: Leah Edwards of Ecolocalizer.

12th Annual Arab Film Festival
When? October 16-28
Where? the Castro, Clay, Delancey Screening Room, Alliance Française and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in Frisco, Camera 12 in San Jose, Shattuck and Parkway in the East Bay, and even screenings in Santa Cruz and Los Angeles
Have I been before? Yes- I found it a well-run, well-attended festival when I sampled it in 2006.
I have seen and can recommend: With reservations, Recycle, an artistic but perhaps overly-ambiguous documentary about a recycler in Zarqa, Jordan. I wrote a bit more on it here.
I'm curious to see: Opening night film Waiting For Pasolini, Sundance favorite Captain Abu Raed, which also plays this weekend at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
More coverage by: Lincoln Spector of Bayflicks. Added 10/13: Michael Fox at sf360.

7th San Francisco International Documentary Festival
When? October 17 through November 6th
Where? Roxie Cinema in Frisco, Shattuck in Berkeley
Have I been before? No, though I've been to other IndieFest-produced events like Another Hole in the Head and the annual generalist festival in February.
I have seen and can recommend: Officially, none. Although IndieFest is also presenting a set of Japanese midnight movies at the Roxie this month entitled Midnight Circus. I can cautiously recommend Takashi Miike's punishing Ichi the Killer and the exuberantly gory 2008 digital feature the Machine Girl if you're into that sort of thing. More here.
I'm curious to see: Along with the aforementioned UNAFF co-presentations, there's the Melody Gilbert retrospective and the Slamdance hit I Think We're Alone Now.
More coverage by: Susan Gerhard at sf360. added 10/9: Michael Hawley at the Evening Class.

17th Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival
When? October 26 through November 19
Where? Camera 12 in San Jose and Cubberly Community Theatre in Palo Alto
Have I been before? Honestly, this is the first year I've been aware of it.
I have seen and can recommend: None.
I'm curious to see: Refusenik sounds fascinating.
More coverage by: Jason Watches Movies.